Michael A Rizzotti
The article entitled The Mythical Quest for Independence was written several years ago. I decided to post it again because i consider it pertinent information in regards to the current politico-religious situation in the U.S. I added some additional observations about Montreal since the writing of this article.
As a young immigrant living in Montreal i saw Quebec’s cultural development through the eyes of an alien and an outsider. In retrospect, i realize the impact it had on my own personal life as i eventually picked the fields of theology and religious studies in order to make sense of the religious zeal and nationalism that pervaded in Quebec during my youth. The province’s historical development became a fertile groundwork for my research in religion and mythology.
When i first moved to Montreal i was 5 years old. At that time the bulk of my relatives lived in Friuli, Italy. I also had relatives living in Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Morocco and the United States.
As soon as we moved to Montreal i was of age to enroll in school. Contrary to all other European and Italian immigrants who sent their children to English school, i was sent to a French school. The small northern Italian city where i came from had many immigrants living in France. Maybe that explains why my parents had no objections sending me to French school. However, for most other immigrants in Quebec, English was considered to be the language of business and they made sure their children learned it. This caused an increasing amount of resentment from the Québécois who felt betrayed and threatened by the overwhelming Anglo North-American continent. Eventually the politicians would change the laws to direct all non English speaking immigrants’ children to French schools.
I was an alien in a predominantly French school, but i was also an outsider in respect to other Italian children enrolled in an English school. In addition i was living in a French speaking culture that was a minority within an English speaking majority in Canada as well as a minority within an even larger dominant North American Anglo culture.
At the time of my arrival, the québécois had been religiously sheltered from the outside world by the Catholic Church and had lived in relative isolation for almost two centuries. One of the triggers that led to the political upheaval in Quebec and the emancipation of its people was the incursion of television in people’s living room. The québécois were no longer captives to their religious leaders or churches. In a matter of years the medium was systematically implanted in all homes feeding them the culture made in New York and Hollywood. Marshall McLuhan who is famous for stating that the medium is the message, forgot to add that who owns the medium owns the message.
During the nationalist upheaval in the early 1960s, i was amazed to realize how people could so readily surrender their will to a cultic or political belief system. After years of research i came to the conclusion that the hierarchical system, symbolically represented by a pyramid, is at the core of all power schemes. The Catholic Church is built on it and all political systems either from the left or right are based on it. These systems are now being replaced by the tribal incorporated body.
For those who have never visited the city, Montreal is an island that is surrounded by the majestic Saint-Laurence river. To the north of the city lies the other slightly smaller island of Laval. At the time of the Révolution Tranquille the city was linguistically divided between east and west. To the east lived the French people and the great majority of catholic immigrants. To the west lived the English speaking population joined by the other religious denominations. The dividing line between the two solitudes was ironically Blvd. Saint-Laurent, baring the same name as the river.
The city of Montreal used to be called la ville aux cents clochers or “the city with one hundred bell-towers”. In contrast, the most prominent and imposing buildings in the English west side were banks and tall commercial buildings.
On the southern part of Montreal stood Mount Royal, a lone mountain overlooking the downtown’s city scrapers. On the eastern section of the mount was a park on which stood a huge cross that could been seen from miles away. Saint-Joseph oratory was perched high on a slope overlooking the French the city, competing for prominence and height with the University of Montreal also located close by.
The western section of le Mont-Royal was the area appropriately named Westmont. The richest Anglo population lived there. Reinforcing the cultural and linguistic wall between east and west.
Mayor Jean Drapeau who ruled Montreal with an iron fist for 26 years, best personified the city and the era of which we are talking about. He was responsible for the World Fair held in 1967 that opened up Montreal and the province to the world. The fair was held on a man made island built on the Saint-Laurence river just south of downtown. In 1976 the Olympics where also held in Montreal. The extravagant and uncompleted Olympic stadium was located in the eastern section of the city in close proximity to Mayor’s modest residence in Rosemont.
I admit that i am as fascinated by the current politico-religious situation in the U.S. as i was by the messianic and nationalist fervor that took hold of the more radical French speaking population of Quebec. The most notable difference today is that the United States is in a phase of cultic regression. There is a longing to reclaim a glorious past. Best described as a yearning for a Paradise Lost. There is a popular belief and an illusion ─a delusion in regards to the more radical right─ that an original innocence can only be redeemed by a divine self-anointing. The result is that an increasingly reactionary agenda, in the guised of a political cult, has become more and more out of touch with the present global reality.